“Eureka!” The cry that started it all. Gold was discovered in California. In the era of “Manifest Destiny” people risked it all to get to the West and get rich. They loaded up everything they could on to their wagons and hit the trail, not knowing it would be some of the most difficult terrain they would have to traverse. But the risk was worth the reward in the promise of a new life, expansive land, and all the gold they could get their hands on! As the pioneers of old traveled across the great plains, they realized that in order to make it to the “promised land”, they would have to make some sacrifices. Soon enough the trails were littered with personal belongings that they had to let go. Stuff that was weighing them down. In order to cross the plains, rivers, and mountains, they had to unload a lot of the baggage they thought they “needed”. What they soon realized was that the end of the road was more important than simple belongings that they could always regain once they were settled. They had to be willing to give up the things that would free them up to pursue their dreams unencumbered.
How true this is in our own walk in Christ. All too often we continue to carry the unnecessary baggage in our pursuit of righteousness. In Christ, it is absolutely necessary to give up. We must give up the sin that so easily entangles us. To give up the worldly desires that can keep us from accomplishing our mission. Every individual needs to determine for themselves what it is that they need to release. It could be the tangible items that takes our focus off of Jesus. It could be our job, money, cell phones, music, drugs, sex, or even our relationships with those that do not have Christ in their line of sight. 1 Peter 4:1-3 says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”
Jesus made it very clear what we need to do. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) We need to give up! This may sound very defeating to those who do not understand. Back in 2007, I spoke at my school’s high school graduation. In my encouragement to the graduates, I used the old stand-by, Winston Churchill’s “Never give in” speech. In 1941 Churchill stood before a crowd at his old school and proclaimed:
“This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” (October 29, 1941)
How true this is in the Christian faith. No matter what the world may throw your way, never give in to its desires. Satan will come at you from all directions to persuade you to give in to anything that is not of Christ. However, before you are strong enough to face the persecution, you need to relent, give up, and sacrifice yourself to the One who will set you free. In so doing, you will uninhibited to serve Jesus Christ and stay focused on the prize. “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
There is one final consideration in this process. Do you think the pioneers really understood what it would cost them to travel west? Do you think they understood that pain, hunger, and even death were awaiting them out on the frontier? Some may have and decided to go anyways. Others probably did not and were caught off guard when the trials came. They were blinded by the prospect of land, gold, and the promise of a glorious life out west. These are the ones who did not count the cost. So often, Christians can be blinded by the happiness, grace, smiles, hugs, and encouragement of the church that they forget that walking in Christ comes at a cost: everything. Jesus explains this to a couple who wanted to follow Him.
“And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ Then another of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'” (Matthew 8:18-22)
Jesus was being extremely blunt with these two. Simply put, He was explaining that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to give up everything and gain nothing. My pastor made a great analogy in using the Armed Forces commercials to make this point. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine commercials are some of the best on tv. They show pristine uniforms, shiny weapons, and a glorious life of traveling the world in pursuit of freedom for all. Do you think they would get as many recruits if they showed the horrors of war? If they showed images of American soldiers covered in blood and dying on the battlefield? Probably not. Yet all recruits must count the cost of being an American soldier: everything. Are you willing to die for what you believe in? Are you prepared to lose it all in the pursuit of eternal salvation and glory in Christ? Now is the time. It’s time to give up. Throw your hands up and surrender to God Almighty.
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:12-19)